SE Asia - Gem of a Journey
The New Year 2013 (the year of the snake, which was just a month away) began in a most wonderful way! DH and I embarked on our greatly anticipated trip to Bangkok, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hong Kong. Initially, I could not imagine that I could ever plan what I thought was such a complicated itinerary myself. However, with the expert advice and support of all you Fodorites, I made the decisions and successfully arranged the many steps of our agenda. Thank you very much for all the detailed information and suggestions. We really appreciated it, and we certainly enjoyed the sights and experiences as they unfolded. And so our “gem of a journey” finally began on January 10, 2013….
We flew from Newark to Shanghai (about 14 hours or so), and after a 3 hour layover we flew to Bangkok (about 5 hours or so). This was United business/first; so we were comfortable during the long flight. It was now January 11. Many months ago, we had made some land arrangements with Tour with Tong; we were met at the airport and driven to the Royal Orchid Sheraton. We had booked the ROS with Starwood points and dollars, and upon check-in, we were upgraded to the Club floor in the Tower, with a river view. Hooray! We started off our days there with buffet breakfast in a lovely riverside setting overlooking the Chao Phraya River. We really enjoyed the ROS – its location (their luxurious boat to the skytrain station), the helpful and courteous staff, a room with river view. This was a good choice, the first of many.
Saturday, January 12
Sawaddee ka (Hello)! After a delicious breakfast, our excellent guide, Jerry, met us in the lobby at 8am. We took a taxi to Wat Traimit, in Chinatown area, where we saw the Golden Buddha. Next we took a taxi to the Grand Palace complex and the Emerald Buddha, made of jade. Then we took a taxi to the pier for our private longtail boat tour of the klongs (canals) in Thonburi. Bangkok is sometimes called the “Venice of the East”, and we witnessed everyday life on the waterways, very enjoyable. Lunch was at a local eatery (called Roon & Rub, or something like that). We had pad thai and a stir fry dish with veggies. After lunch, we walked over to Wat Pho to see the Reclining Buddha. I especially marveled at the beautiful soles of his (huge) feet, intricate inlaid mother of pearl! Then we took a ferry across the Chao Phraya River to go to Wat Arun. The exteriors of the buildings here are covered with shards of ceramics, in beautiful floral motifs. We then took a ferry back across the CP and then an express ferry to the ROS. (Everything today was on the ROS side of the CP River, except for Wat Arun). BTW, one needed to remove shoes to enter the Wats. Jerry was a knowledgeable and personable guide, fun to be with.
We walked to nearby Harmonique for dinner, after a short rest. We enjoyed stir fried asparagus and oyster mushrooms, pad thai with shrimp (encased in a crust), and sizzling prawns. Coconut ice cream for dessert. As we were tired from a wonderful and busy day, we slept quite well.
Sunday, January 13
After another “riverside breakfast” at the ROS, we took a taxi to the Weekend Market for some shopping. Then we successfully navigated the skytrain system (which DH compared to the Paris metro, but of course this one is “up in the sky”)) over to the Jim Thompson House. We were very proud of ourselves! We had a wonderful lunch there in a lovely setting. We had the most delicious pomelo salads and stir fried broccoli and shrimp. Mmmm…. (We really loved the pomelo available at many of our breakfasts thereafter)! We took a tour there and checked out the leafy grounds. We took the skytrain and then the club-like ROS boat on the CP River back to the hotel. (On the ROS boat, the attendant always gave us cold, wet towels and bottled water, very refreshing while we were relaxing away on the leather banquettes)! We sat at the ROS pool, overlooking the river, writing in our travel journal.
We took a taxi to Mango Tree for dinner. We enjoyed steamed bass, chicken curry, pomelo salad, (much preferred the one at lunch today at Jim Thompson House), 3 flavors of ice cream with sticky rice. We taxied back to our hotel and after another great day in Bangkok, slept very well. Tomorrow will be a very busy and memorable day….
Monday, January 14
After breakfast at the ROS, we met our guide, Daeng, in the lobby at 7am. Our (very good) driver was Nope. First we drove south and west to the Maeklong Train Market. What a unique experience! The vendors sell their fish and seafood, produce, flowers, etc., on and around the train tracks, until just a few seconds prior to the arrival of the train. (There is only 1 train, and it makes the trip about 4 or 5 times a day; this one was early in the morning). Then at the last possible instant, the vendors jump out of the way. After a short stop, the train departs again, and life at the train market goes back to the way it was. Of course we had never seen anything like this; so we were thrilled to start off the day here! Next stop was the Damnoensaduak Floating Market. We all went in a paddle boat through the main, bustling part of the floating market and also through a very quiet section of the klongs too. It is amazing to see the local people making their purchases by boat in such a setting. Afterwards, we stopped at a local palm sugar production place, where we watched, and even tasted the delicious palm sugar (and “helped” stir the very hot molten mixture). We went to the Damnoensaduak Elephant Village, where we rode on an elephant, with a mahout. The ellie went tramping right through a body of water – what fun! Then we had a quick lunch in a local place. Next we went to Tong’s “secret place”, the Klongkhone fishing village. We went out in a motorized boat into the Gulf of Thailand/Pacific Ocean. On the way, we fed dozens of bananas (which we had just bought on the roadside) to countless wild monkeys, a lively scene, to say the least! In the fishing village area, we saw Thai houses on stilts in the water and fishermen immersed in the water catching fish and cockles with nets. This was indeed a very secluded area; in fact there were no other people in sight, other than Daeng, us, and our boat man. He steered us out to an isolated wooden building right in the middle of the water, where we climbed up a steep rope ladder-like structure to enjoy the “look-out” to the ocean. We also were somehow brave enough to walk out on a shaky path/bridge for additional unobstructed vistas. We spent a good amount of time there, which was just lovely and most unusual, before the inevitable – the even more scary climb back down again to the little boat to take us back to land. This was a very special and remote spot! All during the long, activity-packed day, Daeng enthusiastically took pictures of us (our camera, of course), capturing the spirit of the day. Also, Daeng was not only great to be with, knowledgeable, and considerate, but she was very flexible in terms of our schedule and preferences. A truly wonderful guide! The drive back to the ROS was about an hour and a half, in a comfortable air-conditioned car.
Tired and happy, we got ready for dinner at the (thankfully) nearby Gallery Café. We tried stir fried morning glory (had seen it for sale at the train market!) and pad thai. We were exhausted at this point. Then we took a stroll through the River City Mall, which is sort of attached to the ROS, and we also enjoyed ice cream, before R & R.
Tuesday, January 15
After breakfast at the ROS, we took the hotel water shuttle to the skytrain and then the skytrain to the Siam stop and then walked on the skywalk to the Intercontinental Hotel . There we shopped at Narai Phand, a Royal Thai Government Handicrafts Center. We bought a good amount of items. Love that store! We also checked out Thai Crafts nearby. We took the skytrain back to the hotel. After a brief rest, we had cocktails al fresco overlooking the CP River, watching the sunset and the various vessels going by! Watching the boats on the CP was one of our favorite relaxing activities at the ROS: at our outdoor table at breakfast daily, from our room, at sunset enjoying a glass of wine, at the pool area. How nice….
We had dinner at Tongue Thai: great chicken and cashews, pad thai, and giant river prawns. Then we had ice cream and returned to the ROS to pack.
Tour with Tong was excellent. They delivered everything expected, and more. The tour guides were outstanding and very likeable, making our sightseeing in BKK most enjoyable and special. We highly recommend Tong. Kob kun ka (Thank you).
Stay tuned for the next installment: Siem Reap, Cambodia….
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SE Asia - Gem of a Journey